With Christmas Day just three weeks away, many seasonal events are planned throughout Columbia County.
The Christmas festivities will start Thursday in Harlem with the city's annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony from 6 to 8 p.m.
After city council members and Mayor Bobby Culpepper light the tree in front of city hall, choirs from North Harlem Elementary and Harlem Middle schools will sing Christmas carols for guests.
"This year, the merchants are going to be open in the evening, so that people can come and do a little bit of Christmas shopping that night," said event coordinator Denise Carter.
Santa Claus will listen to children's Christmas lists, while hot chocolate and cookies are served to the crowd.
"Folks will get some new Christmas lights and decorations downtown this year, which I think will be a great treat for them," Carter said. "It'll look very Christmassy in Harlem this year."
Grovetown city officials will hold their tree-lighting ceremony Friday, followed by the city's 34th annual Christmas parade Saturday.
The Grovetown Middle School band will play music before Mayor George James greets the crowd at 6 p.m. The Grovetown Elementary choir will perform a Christmas skit.
Grovetown City Clerk Vicky Capetillo hopes a crowd comes to watch Santa Claus light up several sections of Old Wrightsboro Road at West Robinson Avenue, including the museum, city hall, senior center, gazebo and Memorial Park.
"We usually fill up about three bleachers and have standing room only around the entire parking lot of the old city hall, where the senior center is," she said.
The city's Christmas parade, which starts at noon Saturday, will begin in the Summerfield subdivision off East Robinson Avenue and will go down Robinson Avenue to the Wrightsboro Road at Harlem-Grovetown Road.
More than 60 entry applications have been collected, said Laura McManus, a parade coordinator. She said the parade usually attracts 75 to 100 entries.
Santa Claus will arrive in a carriage provided by Canterbury Trails and bands, floats, church and dance groups, athletic teams and many others will make up the parade.
"We have people enter the day of the parade when we're lining up, so if they haven't filled out an application, they don't get turned away," McManus said. "The main rule that we have is that if they enter a racing car, it has to be on a trailer."
Applications can be turned in at the Grovetown Department of Public Safety.
Residents also are invited to Columbia County's tree-lighting ceremony, the Christmas in America Festival, from 3-9 p.m. Saturday at the Columbia County Amphitheater.
Guests can listen to an acoustic concert from 3-5:30 p.m. featuring local performers Pat Blanchard, Ship of Fools, Tara Scheyer and the Mud Puppy Band, Jayson Sabo and The Shoals.
Santa Claus will be in attendance to take pictures with guests, and arts and crafts and food vendors will be on site.
The tree-lighting ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m., and includes performances by the Columbia County Ballet, the Dickens Carolers and the Columbia County Elementary School Mass Chorus.
A toy drive for Columbia County Foundation for Children and an outdoor showing of the movie Elf also are new to this year's festival.
The Columbia County Merchants Association will hold the 43rd annual Martinez-Evans Christmas parade Sunday from 2-4 p.m.
The parade will begin at Town Center Park on Ronald Reagan Drive before turning left on Washington Road, and then onto Belair Road to Belair Elementary.
The parade usually attracts 5,000-7,000 spectators, said parade chairman Billy Franke. The Merchants Association has received more than 100 entries, including floats, ROTC groups, high school bands and Santa Claus.
Franke said the roads will be blocked off by about 1:30 p.m., and spectators should arrive an hour before the parade starts.
"The floats and groups that wish to be judged need to arrive before (noon) because the judging is done prior to the parade," he said.
Back in Harlem, city residents will celebrate the sixth annual Christmas in the Heart of Downtown Harlem Dec. 13 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The event will feature Christmas, food and craft vendors on Main Street, a kid zone and Harlem's Christmas parade.
"The festival just seems to grow a little bit more each year," Carter said. "It's really taken off."
The parade will start at 11 a.m. at Harlem Middle School and continue along West Milledgeville Road to North Louisville Street and back to the middle school on West Forrest Street.
Carter said the parade, which lasts about an hour, usually draws about 75 entries. Applications for entries can be found online at www.harlemga.org, or by calling (706) 556-3448 and turned into city hall by Friday.
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